By Holly Tucker
Kids, I've told you a million times...Quit Dissecting the Dog!
I came across this image quite by accident today in the extraordinary Wellcome Library image collection. I've been working on some descriptions of early-modern dissections for my book manuscript--and was having a hard time putting into words the tools that anatomists used in their work: their size, shape, and use. Often when I'm stuck, I dip into my favorite arsenals of images to reawaken my creative juices.
It was only after I had flipped through a good hundred images or so that I realized: I'm too jaded. What an odd life it is when you can scan illustrations that are hundreds of years old and think "seen that," "been there," "done that" as you hit enter.
And then, just when I was thinking that nothing surprises me anymore: the putti magically appeared.
Putti (putto in the singular) are what those portly little babies are called. While they are regular features in Renaissance religious art, they show up from time to time as well in later scientific, and especially, medical illustrations.
One of my putti favorites has to be the frontispiece to Regnier de Graaf's De mulierum organis generationi inservientibus (1672), which announced the discovery of the human egg. (Spermatazoa were discovered in 1677--see post on Little Men in Sperm and The Chicken or the Egg).
The putti in the bottom left-hand portion of the illustration have just dissected a hare. They have put its ovaries on a tray and are looking at it close-up through a telescope-like device. Behind them stands a statuesque figure who holds a hand-drawn image of the female reproductive system.
But for as much as the Regnier image is eye-catching (and figures prominently on the cover of one of my books), I have to say that this new set of putti amuse and mesmerize me while also creeping me out in no small measure.
Realism in Dissection
Dissection of Syphilis Patients
Anatomy of a Teaching Gig
Image: Etching by Bernard Picart, 1729. Wellcome Library, London.
By Holly Tucker